Bill Would Pave Way For More Body Donations

Oregon state Capitol by Oregon Legislature.jpg

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would alter the status of organizations that provide bodies to medical schools, hospitals and labs to make it easier for individuals to sign up as a donor.

The change would align whole body donation organizations with companies that handle organ and tissue donations and would pave the way for more body donations.

Families can donate whole bodies to companies, which later return the remains, but there is currently no government route to do so, as there is with organ and tissue donations.

Senate Bill 144 would give Oregonians the option to register for whole body donations at the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles division of the Department of Transportation or with the Oregon Health Authority, as they now do with organ donations for transplant. Just like organ donors, whole body donors would receive a signatory mark on their driver’s licenses.

MedCure, a Portland-based company that provides bodies for scientific research, crafted the proposal. During a hearing in the Senate Committee on Health Care, opponents testified that it would allow body donor organizations, many of which are for profit, to dissuade Oregonians from donating organs for transplant.

A clause in the bill gives whole body donor organizations access to the Oregon Donor Registry, which includes 2.5 million Oregonians who have agreed to donate tissue and organs. Executive Director Leslie Brock of Donate Life Northwest, an organ transplant company, said this would allow body donors to “poach” the registry and persuade people to donate their entire body for science rather than donating organs. She said that would hurt those on transplant lists who need organs to survive.

Brock also said that transplant organizations like hers have worked hard to gain public trust. She said changing the rules to include whole body donations might prompt people to withdraw from the registry.

Lawmakers plan to update the bill, to remove access by whole body donations organization to the registry, according to Heidi Kayser, MedCure’s outreach director. She said the bill is only intended to open opportunities for scientific research and increase awareness of how body donation works.

She said the bill, which only applies to accredited organizations, would legitimize companies like MedCure by creating government oversight over the industry.

The American Association of Tissue Banks is the nation’s leading accreditation organization for anatomical donations, representing more than 100 transplant organizations. The association has accredited only seven companies that facilitate whole body donations, including two in Oregon: MedCure and Science Care.

Besides providing bodies for scientific research, Kayser told The Lund Report that companies like MedCure offer financial relief to families who have lost a loved one. Cremation services can cost thousands of dollars, but if a family is willing to donate the body, the company will usually pay for the cremation.

Kayser said the bodies are used by universities, labs or practitioners, usually for four weeks. They are then cremated and the remains are returned to the family. She said the process is very transparent, and that the family will be notified if a university or lab wants to keep the body longer.

In the Senate hearing, Gresham resident Jessica Eivers said she turned to MedCure when her father passed away last year. The family had no savings or plan for his death and could not afford funeral services.

Eivers said her father had been so sick that organ transplant wasn’t feasible. She said MedCure told  her exactly how his body would be used to benefit scientific research. She said she wants Oregonians to receive the same kind of education about body donations that she received when dealing with MedCure.

“We had no financial burden whatsoever,” Eivers said. “We discovered that our tragic situation could make a better life and better future for future generations.”

Have a tip about health care or the Legislature? You can reach Alex Visser at [email protected].

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